Situated on the stunning Oorlogskloof River, Calvinia is 470 kilometres, by road, north of Cape Town. The town lies at the foot of the dolerite-topped Hantam Mountains (Hantam being a Khoi word meaning, where the red bulbs grow). Although the town has a number of tourist attractions, it is the night sky that draws the most attention. Calvinia has very little cloud cover throughout the year and coupled with the fact that there are very few city lights, like Sutherland, the area enjoys 80% starlight. For visitors coming from cities and built up areas, and astronomers, this night sky is a major attraction.
The area surrounding Calvinia was originally inhabited by the Khoisan people and it was only in the 1750's that the first European farmers took their livestock to the area. The farmers received tracts of land 63 years later in 1813. The farming community continued to grow and on 19 January 1847, a meeting was held at one of the farms in the area and a new Dutch Reformed Church congregation was founded for the Hantam region. The following year the congregation bought 1,200 hectares of farmland and the first reverend, N.J. Hofmeyr, proposed that the church be named after John Calvin. Over 100 years after the first farmers arrived in the area the town was officially named Calvinia on 30 October 1851.
Some of the attractions in Calvinia include:
The Calvinia Museum which is housed in the former art deco styled Jewish synagogue that was built in 1920. The museum portrays the lives of the early European settlers.
The Akkerendam Nature Reserve, which offers unique flowers and two hiking trails cross the Hantam Mountains, is located just north of Calvinia.
The Boekhuis, which means the Book House, was built in 1860 by Jacobus Nel van der Merwe, and currently made available for the exclusive use of writers. The historical T Shaped building was built in a Cape Dutch style with a concave-convex gable.
One of the town's annual festivals is the Hantam Meat Festival which is an agricultural show and great braai (barbecue) that takes place every year in late August. Agriculture plays an important role in Calvinia as it is one of SA's largest wool producing areas.
For anyone wanting to visit Calvinia it is important to note that although the average summer temperature is 22 degrees Celsius it can peak at over 40 degrees. And the average winter temperature is 10 degrees Celsius but can fall to -8 degrees with regular snow falls on the surrounding mountains.